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Tearful Agassi bows out of tennis

Once the final service winner had flashed past him, Agassi slumped into his chair and cried as he got a standing ovation from the 23,000 crowd.

india Updated: Sep 04, 2006 11:35 IST

Andre Agassi lost in the third round of the US Open on Sunday a defeat that brought down the curtain on one of the greatest careers in tennis.

The 36-year-old Agassi went down 7-5, 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 7-5 to unsung Benjamin Becker of Germany. He had already made it clear that this was his farewell tournament.

Once the final service winner had flashed past him, Agassi slumped into his chair and cried as he got a standing ovation from the 23,000 crowd that had packed into the Arthur Ashe Stadium court to will him on one last time.

When he eventually spoke minutes later, Agassi for once, struggled to deliver.

"The scoreboard said I lost, but what it doesn't say it is what I have found over the last 21 years," he tearfully told the New York crowd.

"I have found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and life. I have found inspiration and you have willed me to win.

"Over the last 21 years I have found you and I will take you with me for the rest of my life."

The surprise defeat brought an end to a 20-year-long career that brought the Las Vegan eight Grand Slam titles and worldwide acclaim as one of the greatest-ever in the sport.

He notably in 1999 became just the fifth player to win on all four Grand Slam title surfaces when he came from two sets down against Andrei Medvedev to lift the French Open crown.

In all he won four Australian Opens (1995, 2000, 2001 and 2003), two US Opens (1994 and 1999), one Wimbledon (1992) and one French Open (1999)

He was also World No.1 on several occasions and played in three winning Davis Cup squads for the United States.

But he had been increasingly crippled by a bulging disc in his lower back in the last 18 months and announced on June 24 that he would retire after this year's US Open.

Agassi won his two opening ties raising hopes of another magic run at Flushing Meadows similar to last year when he reached the final and lost in four tough sets to Roger Federer.

He defeated Andrei Pavel of Romanian in four sets in the first round and eighth seed Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus in five sets in the second.

But he needed pain-killing injections in his back after both wins and he looked a shadow of his former self against 25-year-old Becker, who only joined the ATP tour this summer after four years of studies in the United States.

Playing first up on the main showcourt in bright sunshine following two days of dreary, rainy weather, Agassi had four break points in the second game of the opener but failed to convert any of them.

Any hopes he might have had of an easy run into the last 16 were quickly dispelled as Becker more than held his own.

His pace bothered a stiff-looking Agassi and the German was increasingly dominant on his own service game.

The Las Vegan served to force a tie-break but he flew a backhand inches wide and then double-faulted to fall a set down.

Becker had the chance to pile on the pressure against a subdued looking Agassi, but he played a tight service game with four unforced errors to open the second set.

Agassi finally fired up the crowd in the next 22-point game saving six break points to move 2-0 ahead.

But four games later the storm clouds gathered over Agassi as he dropped his serve to love with Becker dominating.

The American was clearly in pain grimacing on serve and when drawn out of position but he grimly held on and against the odds, helped by two double faults from his opponent he won the tie-break 7/4 to level the score.

It proved to be the final winning set of his career.

Becker belied his lack of big-time experience to break the opening Agassi serve of the third set and he jumped out into a 3-0 lead.

Agassi got one of the breaks back, but Becker held on to the next three to take the set 6-4.

It looked all over for Agassi, but the German appeared to go into his shell as the match edged up toward the three hour mark, barely making an effort on the Agassi service games in the fourth set.

Games went with serve until 5-5 when Becker suddenly struck, whipping shots past a static Agassi to break serve.

He then held easily to love to send Agassi into retirement.

"It seemed like a movie for me today. He was my idol growing up," said a subdued Becker.

"He is one of a kind and has brought so much to tennis. It was a great honour to play him."

Agassi's retirement also brings down the final curtain on a golden era for men's tennis in the United States as he, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and Michael Chang dominated the sport for a decade and more from 1990.

ak/gph